Temp hell at 9 am

To keep your dignity steal the White Out and eat their food

Rating: NNNNN

In order to pay my rent, I temp. Je temp. It’s its own verb. It’s its own world. I slide into offices where some extra help is needed. You have to beware of certain temp jobs: my friend recently found herself resetting the time on a box of 1,000 watches.

When you walk into an office as a temp, people assume you’re dumb. Accept it. Work with it. The power of the temp is in the illusion of innocence. For example, walk in, say, “Gosh, this phone has a lot of buttons!” Then, as soon as your supervisor walks away, turn on the computer, Telnet to your e-mail account and record any pertinent information that might help you later.

During the day, people will make available to you all sorts of passwords, secret cellphone numbers and client information because they assume you’re stupid.

If you choose the career criminal route, insider trading, blackmail and corporate espionage are fruitful possibilities. And if $12.50/hour is enough to deter you from extorting cash from middle-management types who tell you (in loud voices so that other office workers can hear) to get them coffee, than you won’t have to work too hard at the feigning stupidity part.

I’ve taken it upon myself to keep a little temp diary, in the hope that my experiences will someday help someone else. Names have been omitted, as I may or may not have engaged in criminal activity.

Realized revenge

December 17, diamond mining

A tiny office of 4 people, plus one secretary who was there to train and abuse me before she left for some self-help seminar. Later, the vice-president wanted to take some important documents home to work on over the weekend.

I told him I’d find them, attach them and e-mail them to his home. He looked skeptical (assuming stupidity) but told me to go ahead and try. After about 15 minutes, I found the files, figured out the company e-mail system and sent them off.

He was surprised. I heard him tell the president that they should keep me and dump the regular secretary. Heh heh.

(Remember, aside from illegal accumulation of funds, it is also possible to have moments of realized revenge from temping. I also stole some White Out.)

January 2-3, publishing

The best part about being a temp at a publishing company is that you get to be really nice to all the struggling writers who call and ask to whom they should send their unsolicited manuscript.

I also got taken out to lunch by the production manager. For sushi! The cost was about half my day’s wages. I think he felt sorry for me. Maybe he could see that there was more to me than my tempish exterior.

At quitting time, a publicity person let me raid the book room, where I loaded my bag with newly published novels ($96.37 retail value — $16.37 more than I earned temping that day).

Note: this is the kind of temp job you want to aim for.

January 6-10, mining equipment manufacturers

I sent out lots of engineering blueprints, which smell really weird when they’re still wet (didn’t seem to have any hallucinogenic value, though). The phone rang very infrequently, so I read a lot and wrote cover letters on their computer.

They also had a kitchen full of good snacks: Ritz Bits sandwich crackers, Fig Newtons, raisins in little red boxes and a large selection of free drinks. (Rule #1: it is a temp’s duty to consume as much as possible.)

Eat snacks

They asked me about five times if I would stay on (imagine that — just for eating all their snacks and knowing how to use the postage machine), and by the end they were offering me 100K plus a yacht.

Remember, if they want to hire you permanently, you are not acting dense enough.

February 11, corporate learning company

They tried all sorts of cheerful management jargon on me, trying to make me feel like I was “part of the team” for the day. I thought they were creepy.

February 17-21, bank (corporate recruiting department)

This is a good time to warn you about “employees who make temps want to sniff glue.” This bank had a lot of these folks. There was Debra, a baby-faced dweeb with pink glasses who had to remind me at least once an hour that she was getting married in a month. Obviously, everyone else in the office was ignoring her, so she badgered me with her flower arrangement ideas.

There was Selma, a sugary-sweet woman who would explain intolerably easy tasks in such great depth that I had to suppress the urge to slap her.


And there was Alexis, Ms. Middle Management, who took me out in the hall to get my valued opinion about the department. Considering that she’d known me for one day and that I was sporting a full coat of armour of half-wit temp attitude, it was obvious this woman needed serious help.

When faced with employees like these, your first reaction will be to try to inhale random adhesives in order to ease the acute aggravation, but chances are you’ll only be able to get your hands on some non-toxic glue sticks.

So try this instead: look the aggressor straight in the eye and give a slight nod approximately every 7.5 seconds. Think about the movie you saw last night, about the screenplay you’re working on, or turn your brain off completely.

Don’t worry — you won’t miss anything important. They are only talking to you because they can’t stand talking to their co-workers any more, not because they expect any sort of response.

March 5, securities

My supervisor for the day was unusually cool. Linda was the first corporate person on whom I tried my Marge from Fargo accent, and she immediately broke into hers instead of looking at me like I was mentally retarded. She actually took me out onto the trading floor and introduced me around. I have no idea why, but it was fun.

The reception computer was rife with mind-challenging games: not just the usual Solitaire and Mine Sweeper, but Free Cell, Cruel Asteroids, Tempest, Missile Command, Battlezone, Centipede and, of course, Tetris. (I rule.)

Any of these could be instantly paused, allowing me to answer the annoying phone, which rang all the time.

At the end of the day, some woman came over to the reception desk and took apart my partly read New York Times to wrap some wet flowers in. I guess she thought it was the company’s copy. God forbid a temp would read anything but People magazine. But I was vindicated by the stolen copy of the company’s New Economist in my briefcase.

Temping can be utterly painful or a series of little adventures. It can make you a millionaire or simply bolster your home stockpile of office supplies. The most important thing is to maintain your dignity while people treat you like a punching bag.

Whether you do this by displaying impressive computer skills or by stealing jars of non-dairy creamer is up to you. Just remember — never let them see your brain.

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